Caroline Bonnell made a wish.
"Well, thank goodness, Nathalie," she recalled saying in a letter written to her companion, "we are going to see our iceberg at last."
On a night when so many dreams died, such a frivolous comment proved haunting. In the weeks following the April 15, 1912, sinking of the RMS Titanic, Bonnell, who grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, recalled running up to the deck with her friend and distant cousin, Nathalie Wick, whose name was spelled "Natalie" on the passenger manifest.
Unconcerned by news that Titanic had scraped an iceberg, they just wanted to have a look. Bonnell was no child -- unmarried and 30 years old, she was, in one account, labeled a "spinster."
But it wasn't hard to get caught up in the excitement. Titanic was the biggest, most luxurious passenger ship in the world, and four days after leaving Southhampton, England, en route to New York, the novelty hadn't worn off.
Yet it wasn't long before the women were ushered into lifeboat No. 8, along with Caroline's aunt, Elizabeth Bonnell, and Nathalie's stepmother, Mary.
The women survived; Nathalie's father, George Dennick Wick, 57, died. The extended family, all residents of Youngstown, had been first-class passengers returning from a tour of Europe.
At least one prominent Pittsburgh family had tickets on the doomed liner, but a sprained ankle delayed their voyage. A noted artist whose work hangs in the Duquesne Club was not so lucky, nor was a group of Finnish immigrants headed home to Washington County.
The saga of the Titanic -- historic drama peppered with outright myth -- has been visited time and again. A century later, it remains a ship of dreams.
Before it set sail, only one brochure noted Titanic was built to be "unsinkable." That hyperbole came later, after the first Marconi wireless reports trickled in, and White Star Line officials were desperate to head off a riot by frantic relatives of the passengers.
A wireless report out of the company's New York City offices on the afternoon of April 15 quoted White Star vice president, P.A.S. Franklin, as assuring "While we are not in direct communication with the Titanic ... we cannot state too strongly our belief that the ship is unsinkable, and the passengers perfectly safe."
That could have been the case if warnings of icebergs from other ships had been heeded by the Titanic and an international wireless system had been in place.
In the ice field
At the time, wireless radio using Morse code was still a relatively new media. Multiple systems were in operation around the world, some using varying codes. Signal strength and transmission protocol differed from ship to ship, adding to confusion.
The distress signal S.O.S. had been in use for several years. But British and U.S. ships still used the older signal, C.Q.D., which Titanic sent out shortly after scraping the iceberg at 11:40 p.m. April 14. According to the Marconi company's compilation of radio logs, telegraph operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride, his assistant, later added S.O.S. as well.
"They had the best radio setup you could have, of the day," said Bill Emory, a University of Colorado professor in the aerospace and engineering department.
There are records of other ships, having encountered the ice field that night, sending warnings to Titanic that either were set aside for review later or possibly ignored.
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